“Evidently salvation is not to be found by increasing the comforts and pleasures of life, medical treatments, artificial teeth and hair, breathing exercises, massage, and so forth; […] It is impossible to remedy this by any amusements, comforts, or powders – it can only be remedied by a change of life.”
— Leo Tolstoy, ‘What then must we do?’ (trans. Aylmer Maude)
Richard Brody on the final film of the late Agnès Varda, who died in March at the age of ninety:
“The sublime originality of the work and the life of Agnès Varda, who died in March, at the age of ninety, provides her last film, “Varda by Agnès” (screening October 9th and 10th), with both its subject and its form. It’s a personal journey through her career, centered on a series of public lectures, interviews, and conversations that mesh with clips from her work—museum installations and videos as well as movies—and with staged sequences that provide a theatrical context for her reminiscences and reflections. “Varda by Agnès” is a fitting valedictory work that, in its retrospective illuminations, nonetheless pushes Varda’s own aesthetic relentlessly forward: it’s an exemplary illustration of the very concept of the auteur, of the director as prime creator, an idea which—though she was never a critic and never advanced it in theory—her body of work exemplifies as strongly as anyone’s has done, now or ever.”
Anticipating the release of A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, journalist Tom Junod has reflected on the friendship with Fred Rogers that inspired the film. Drawing from personal correspondence, he explores why Mister Rogers remains relevant as an important cultural icon.
“It’s the start of 2016, and Smith’s friend Pearlman—a producer and rock critic—has been hospitalized after a brain hemorrhage. As he lies in a coma, Smith recounts the tumultuous year that follows—the loss of friends (Sam Shepard is nearly bedridden), the horror of the imminent election and rise of nationalism, and the impending climate crisis. A reflection on mortality, the book retains Smith’s characteristically flat tone as she wanders through stretches of Arizona, California, Virginia, and Kentucky, stopping at diners for black coffee and onion omelets and conversations with strangers. She hitchhikes from San Francisco to San Diego and back, travels as far as Lisbon, and returns home to the quiet of her Rockaway bungalow to stare at the flowers. All the while, she describes the mundane details of life with incredible vividness…”
Camille Jacobson on Year of the Monkey,
a new memoir from Patti Smith.
“The most important thing in life is not happiness but meaning.”
— John M. Hull, Notes on Blindness
Set in the summer of 1983, Notes on Blindness
is a beautiful 2016 documentary that explores the life of
writer and theologian John M. Hull.
Based on his memoir, Touching the Rock,
the film offers a deeply personal account
of an academic who permanently loses his vision
while anticipating the birth of his son.
Filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney
draw from audio cassettes recorded by Hull at the time,
which attempt to explain and understand
the experience of blindness
through vivid philosophical reflections
on everyday events and experiences. (more…)
“I grew up on the margins, I inherited all the value of the margins. I know from all my reading and living that extraordinary things happen on the edges—the changes happen, the rituals happen, the magic, for want of a better word, happens on the edge of things. Everything is possible at the edge. It’s where the opposites meet, the different states and elements come together.”
“[W]hen he first arrived in Skjolden, Wittgenstein wasn’t exactly alone. He lodged in the village with the family of the local postmaster in one of the distinctive two-storey clapboard houses that huddle together where a fast-flowing river empties into the fjord. Skjolden today looks pretty much as it did in 1913, save for the village’s only hotel, a later arrival, where I stayed in a room with spectacular views down the V-shaped valley of Lustrafjord.
While he was not entirely free of human company in the village, Wittgenstein was at least able to eschew the sort of sophisticated society that tormented him in Cambridge (and his native Vienna, for that matter). In Skjolden, he wrote, “my day passes between logic, whistling, going for walks, and being depressed”. I suspect the highly convivial evening I spent eating a burger and drinking locally brewed craft beer in the hotel bar while guests watched English Premier League football would not have been to the philosopher’s taste.
It was during this first visit to Skjolden that Wittgenstein engaged a local builder to construct the house on Eidsvatnet, a little lake at the end of the fjord. It had three rooms: a small living room, a kitchen and bedroom. There was also an attic with a balcony. When Wittgenstein spent nine months at the house in 1936-37, working on what would become his second, posthumous masterpiece, Philosophical Investigations, villagers would see him in the distance pacing back and forth, pondering the complete overhaul of his views about the nature of logic and language.
Alois Pichler, who runs the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen, says Wittgenstein was “suffering a lot” during this sojourn — suffering that was partly philosophical (how, he wondered, do we unravel the confusions in which many of the discipline’s traditional problems consist?) and partly spiritual (how do we reckon with our own sins?). There was a meteorological dimension to this too. I was there in the mild, slightly damp Nordic summer. Wittgenstein endured an autumn and winter on the lake. By October of 1936, he was writing to a friend: “The weather has changed from marvellous to rotten. It rains like hell now.” The friend responded by sending Wittgenstein a sou’wester.
The only suffering I endured on my visit to “Austria” was caused by trying to keep up with Vatne as he powered up the narrow path with the aid of hiking poles. Once we reached the top, he showed me round the reconstructed house. There, I sat at a facsimile of Wittgenstein’s writing table by the living room window as I made an entry in the visitors’ book.
“We have tried to bring the house back to what it was,” Vatne says. He and his colleagues have succeeded spectacularly. Now that the house has been rebuilt on its glorious original site, the Wittgenstein Foundation plans to make it available to study groups and individual visitors. The foundation also has more ambitious plans to develop Skjolden as a destination for philosophically themed travel.”
Reading Jon Krakauer‘s Into the Wild. A compelling account of the tragic story of Chris McCandless and his idealistic trek into the Alaskan wilderness. At the same time, the book offers a cultural history of the fascination wild spaces hold in the modern imagination.